Friday, February 28, 2014

How to “Freshen up” your Stale Succession Planning Process

I recently asked readers to submit their burning leadership development questions. Those that get picked for a post will receive a free copy of my eBook.
This one just came in from Rebecca:

“Dan, I know I am quite late entering this discussion, but I have a question. I am struggling with how to take our established Succession Process to the next level. We have been using the 9 box and Likely 5 process for a number of years, and I am trying to figure out what is next and how to freshen up the process. Thanks!”
I picked this question because I just attended an event in Boston called “Secrets of Succession”, a moderated panel discussion with a CHRO, a succession planning consultant and executive coach, and a CEO and Board member. There was also a room full of talent management practitioners, so it was a lively dialog.

Here are a few “secrets” that I picked up that might help those that already have mature succession planning processes, and are looking for ways to take it to the next level. I’ll position them in the form of questions that you can ask yourself to assess your process.
1. How strategic is your process?

Are you just creating lists, charts, binders, etc…, or is your senior leadership team really using the process as a way to prepare your organization to address its current and future leadership requirements? For example, if you are looking to expand into a new market, are your succession and development discussions aligned towards achieving that goal?

2. Are your talent review discussions getting more sophisticated?
Instead of just “can they step into a bigger job”, and “what should their next job be” kind of discussions, is your senior team getting better at really understanding the nuances of assessing potential and leadership development? Are they learning how to develop specific leadership competencies through targeted assignments and projects, and getting creative in the way they do it?

3. How transparent is your process?
Every time I attend one of these sessions, the topic of “to tell or not to tell” comes up. Each year, the trend seems to continue to shift to “more” is better when it comes to how much you tell people. Organizations used to be concerned about the reactions of those that were not chosen as “high potentials”. Instead, they are finding out that those not chosen want to know what it takes to be considered, and get even motivated with their own development. Of course, there are always all kinds of exceptions and caveats, but the benefits of “telling” has clearly outweighed any disadvantages.

4. How simple is your process?
“Simplicity” seems to have replaced transparency as the new mantra these days. Are you still creating thick binders, and probably drowning your executives in bureaucracy? I asked the panel what “simple” looks like to them. One of them has completely done away with any documentation! To them, succession planning and development was all about the discussion, decisions, and actions taken.

5. Are you measuring outputs, not just inputs?
Outputs are the end results of good succession planning and development, i.e., the number of key positions filled with internal candidates, retention of high potentials, etc… Inputs would be completed charts, 9 boxes, development plans, etc…. It’s a shift in focus from “checking off the boxes” to measuring results.

6. Who “owns” the process: HR or your senior leaders?

I’m sure it’s no secret who the real owner should be – hint – it’s not HR. What does CEO ownership look like? I described it in this post: What Does “CEO Commitment” to Leadership Development Really Mean?
I hope this gives readers some ideas how to take your process to the next level. Note that none of these involve creating more bells and whistles – in fact, just the opposite. When it comes to succession planning and leadership development, there really are no new “secrets”. The ones that do it well just treat it as a strategic imperative, and the ones that don’t treat it as just another HR compliance exercise.

Rebecca, please send me your email address if you would like a free book.

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